Fiat announced earlier this year that the 500 hatchback won’t live on after 2019 in the United States. The 500 launched in 2007 and was introduced into the U.S. in 2011 following Fiat’s merger with Chrysler. The Fiat 500 is not a small car, it is a boutique car, people genuinely buy it for its cuteness; I should know I own one. Before it does go away, we thought it deserved another look and I learned that, even with its age, it is one of the most fun and charismatic machines you can get for the money. We drove the 500C Cabrio, it is not so much a convertible as it is a car with a really big cloth sunroof.
Touch the Sport button on the dash, and all the fonts on the cluster change into italics, Sport also wakes up the throttle a good bit. I fell into the routine of pressing that Sport button as a matter of habit during my time with the car. You’re reminded of it the second you twist the switchblade key. The little turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder has a wonderful burble at idle that wouldn’t seem out of place on a larger car, this gets better when you start driving. The burble becomes a raging howl, and shifting right at redline results in a fantastic pop. It is certainly infectious.
While the 500 Abarth is boisterous, it is not exactly fast. At 160 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, most of its competition, such as the Veloster Turbo and Civic Si, feature at least 200 horsepower. The turbo isn’t especially fast to spool up, and the engine isn’t quick to rev either. But it’s peppy enough for around town, and the slowly building boost comes on very smoothly. This means, it is easy to manipulate what power the Abarth has.
A five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission come as standard. The shifter is well-placed, but the throws are a little long. The pedal position is excellent, making rev-matched downshifts easy. Only having five gears to choose from seems a bit of a miss in this day and age, but the ratios work nicely. In a twist, the automatic model makes more torque at 183 pound-feet to the manual’s 170, however the manual has a bit more power with 160 horses versus the automatic’s 157.
When you are in the twisties it turns in eagerly and has plenty of grip. There isn’t much body roll due to it’s size, this means it provides the driver with confidence for hustling it around backroads. Going over bumps, the suspension is firm but the bumps also reveal some flexing and occasional creaking that shows the Abarth’s age.
Over those seven years the styling hasn’t really changed, the bodywork is the same and that’s not a bad thing. The car looks particularly menacing with black headlights, an option added a few years ago. The 500 is also hampered by tiny back seats and a small trunk that can barely fit two carry on suitcases in the cabrio. It’s small size, is great for urban living, allowing you to slip easily into tight spots while parking or in traffic. That said, the long doors eliminate much of the size advantage in parking lots.
The interior is also nearly unchanged. The painted dash panel is still attractive, and it distracts you from the plastic. Those are most evident on the doors. The downside of the interior is the cabin can be pretty noisy, too, on the highway.
The cloth seats are fine, there is a leather option if you want the upgrade. Headroom is tight with a sunroof, but roomy with a solid roof or with the Cabrio’s soft top. It’s nice that there are plenty of easy-to-reach physical buttons for climate controls and such, but with an infotainment touchscreen that maxes out at 5 inches, you are reminded of the car’s age.
Our example cost just under $27k, due to the Equipment Package, Navigation and 17-inch wheels, which do a nice job of filling the fenders. But a hardtop Abarth with big wheels can be had for a little over $22,000, which is more reasonable.
The Abarth’s timeless styling and immense personality keep it a compelling choice for someone who values a unique experience. The Abarth is a special car with a ton of charisma and the 500C Abarth Cabrio is a real joy to hoon around. I am certainly going to miss it.